Minister: 'Presumption against permission' for fracking

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Planning decisions on fracking should remain a matter for the Department of the Environment following the devolution of powers to the new local councils, Mark H Durkan said, on 4 February 2014.

The environment minister said hydraulic fracturing was "a matter of regional significance".

He said his position was that there should be a presumption against granting permission for fracking "until the department is satisfied that there is sufficient and robust evidence on all environmental impacts".

Mr Durkan said this was laid down in his new Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPSS).

He said the SPSS would facilitate the transfer of planning powers, and would create a system that was "fast, fair and fit for purpose".

The minister said more than 20 separate pieces of planning policy would be consolidated into a single policy document "reducing 800 pages of policy to less than 100".

One of the features of the SPSS would be a "strategic policy in relation to town centres and retailing," he said.

"This policy promotes a 'town centre first' approach for the location of future retail and other town centre land uses," the minister explained.

His announced a 12-week public consultation on the SPSS.

Environment Committee chairwoman Anna Lo of Alliance said she was "absolutely delighted" with the statement.

In reply to a question from Ms Lo, Mr Durkan said that "creating and enhancing shared space" would be a core value for the SPSS.

The DUP's Peter Weir asked about the minister's professed emphasis on economic development. He wanted to see "meat on the bones".

The minister said the SPSS "will create certainty for investors".

Cathal Boylan of Sinn Fein also expressed concerns about the economic aspect.

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott asked how the minister's decision to drop the Planning Bill had affected the SPSS.

The minister explained that many aspects contained in the bill could be carried on without the need for legislation.

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